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This article assesses the social positions of the plaintiffs and defendants who appeared before a small claims court, namely the Peacemaker court (Vredemakers) of the city of Leiden in the Dutch Republic in the eighteenth century, a low threshold law court that boasted a quick and inexpensive procedure. Analysis of the social positions of the court’s plaintiffs and defendants helps reveal the extent to which lower social groups actively made use of it. The article is based on linkage between a sample of users of the Peacemaker court during the years 1750-1754 and a census of 1749 comprising socioeconomic data for the entire Leiden population. The court clientele of the Peacemaker court was distinctively elitist. The court was thus first and foremost a forum for an inner group of more well-to-do households who were firmly established in the local community. The Peacemaker court was notably inexpensive and simple in its procedures, yet lower social groups remained markedly reticent to file complaints there, revealing a significant socio-cultural gap between these groups and the burgomasters and aldermen who staffed and maintained the courts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)208-229
Number of pages21
JournalSocial History
Volume40
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015

    Research areas

  • court, Dutch Republic, Eighteenth century, Leiden, litigation, socio-legal history

ID: 7377894